Each week during the 2015 season, Viking Update examines a past game against the Vikings' upcoming opponent. Some of the choices are obvious; others are not. However, all the games chosen stand the test of time.
New York Giants at Minnesota
Dec. 28, 2008
Entering the regular-season finale, the Minnesota Vikings faced a simple equation: Win and they're in. If Brad Childress' team beat the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants they would claim their first divisional title since 2000. The Vikings would still win the division if they lost and Houston beat Chicago, but the Purple Gang wanted to end the roller-coaster season on an upswing and head into the postseason with momentum.
In September, the Vikings and playoffs weren't mentioned in the same sentence. Minnesota lost its first two games and Childress responded by benching quarterback Tarvaris Jackson for backup Gus Frerotte. Supported by running back Adrian Peterson, who would lead the league in rushing with 1,760 yards, the veteran quarterback righted the ship. The Vikings were 3-4 going into their bye, and won six of eight after their week off. An injury to Frerotte late in the season allowed Jackson to regain his job and he proved competent down the stretch. It helped that on the other side of the ball, Minnesota boasted the league's top run defense, anchored by Kevin and Pat Williams, and Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen.
Vegas installed the 9-6 Vikings as a touchdown favorite over the 12-3 Giants, who already had home-field advantage secured throughout the playoffs and were expected to rest many starters in the second half.
The festive Metrodome crowd did not have much to cheer in the early going. The first quarter mainly consisted of yawn-inducing punts. Minnesota tried to get Adrian Peterson off to a fast start, but the Giants defense did an excellent job containing him. The All-Pro managed just 8 yards on seven carries and fumbled once in the first quarter. Fortunately for the Vikings, the Giants weren't much better on offense as they managed a mere 30 yards.
A scoring flurry in the second quarter finally brought the purple-clad capacity crowd to its feet. A 48-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell was followed by a quick three-and-out by the Giants. Three plays later, Peterson exploded off right tackle for a 67-yard touchdown gallop, and the Vikings had a 10-0 cushion with 11:22 to play in the half.
With nothing at stake for them, many expected the Giants to quietly surrender and treat the rest of the game as a preseason contest with player health, not the scoreboard, serving as the primary concern. However, the Giants seemed invigorated facing the deficit. Their next two drives resulted in John Carney field goals from 51 yards and 30 yards. The Vikings fell dormant on offense, save for a short drive toward the end of the half when the Giants stopped Tarvaris Jackson on a fourth-and-1 at the New York 39. Eli Manning then drove his team 33 yards in 27 seconds for Carney's third field goal, a 42-yarder, to cut Minnesota's halftime lead to 10-9.
David Carr replaced Manning for the second half, and he continued the Giants' offensive momentum. The backup played like a seasoned vet in leading the Giants on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that he capped with a 23-yard TD pass Domenik Hixon. New York had its first lead of the afternoon, 16-10. The lead grew when the Giants were able to take advantage of the stumbling Minnesota offense. Following a three-and-out, the Vikings were able to move the ball, thanks to a 41-yard pass from Jackson to Bobby Wade. However, on second-and-goal at the Giants 6, James Butler intercepted Jackson's pass in the end zone and returned it 47 yards to midfield. Seven plays later, Carney's 20-yard field goal delivered a two-score edge for the Giants, 19-10, with 11:22 remaining.
The Vikings responded by finally playing like a team battling for a playoff berth, rather than one coasting into the playoffs. On the ensuing drive, Jackson found Bernard Berrian for a deep 54-yard TD pass on the left side. The Metrodome came to life. Minnesota trailed 19-17 with 9:26 left on the clock.
New York threatened to once again make it a two-score game with an efficient drive led by Carr. He methodically drove the Giants from their 25 to the Vikings 28 where they faced a third-and-13. Chad Greenway and Ellis Wyms combined to sack Carr and force a 48-yard field goal attempt from Carney. The Pro Bowl kicker had made 35 of his previous 37 tries. After this attempt, he would be 35 of 38. Carney missed wide right to the delight of the fans. With 3:17 remaining, the Vikings only needed a field goal to steal the win and the NFC North Division title.
As the Vikings took over at their own 38, the majority of the crowd had no idea the Bears were trailing Houston by 14 points in the waning moments because Childress had ordered the Chicago score not to be shown in the Metrodome. The inevitable Bears defeat meant that the Vikes were playoff-bound regardless of their rally. However, for the fans kept in the dark, it would be nail-biting time. By the time the Vikings were done, few nails were left.
Jackson managed to convert two third downs on passes to Berrian and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe to move the Vikings to the Giants 30. After the Giants dropped Peterson for a 2-yard loss, 29 seconds remained. Minnesota had two timeouts remaining, but the Minnesota sideline inexplicably allowed 20 seconds to roll off the clock before calling for one. With nine seconds left, Childress sent out the field goal team for the potential game-winning kick. The Giants responded by using their second timeout. Childress then mystified everyone by removing the field goal unit and inserting the offense. Jackson tossed an incomplete pass which left five seconds on the clock. Longwell and the field goal unit trotted on the field once again. New York called its final timeout. Several minutes after first thinking he would try the game-winner, Longwell finally got to attempt the 50-yard field goal. The kick was perfect to give the Vikings a 20-19 win, a 10-6 record and the division title.
Postscript: Following the game, several Vikings said they were aware that Chicago was about to lose to Houston, making the result of Longwell's game-winning kick moot. Minnesota had the division won. However, nobody told Longwell. When informed about that, Longwell said, “It’s one of those things that probably would have been good information to have."
John Carney missing a 48-yard field goal with 3:17 remaining. A successful kick would have forced the Vikings to score a touchdown to win the game, rather than a field goal.
Vikings Player of the Game
Kicker Ryan Longwell was clutch with a 48-yard field goal and a 50-yarder as time expired for the win.
Purple Honorable Mention
Running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 103 yards on 21 carries, including a 67-yard TD run.
(via the Dec. 29, 2008 Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
Zygi Wilf (Vikings owner)
"I'm just savoring this moment right now. I'm just going to enjoy it."
Jared Allen (Vikings DE)
"Could we make it any more nerve-racking?"
Brad Childress (Vikings head coach)
"I'm proud to take these guys into this tournament that only 12 teams are in. Nothing says you can't do some damage."
Matt Birk (Vikings center)
"It feels good. Winning releases a lot of endorphins in the brain, I guess."
As the NFC's No. 3 seed, the Vikings hosted the Philadelphia Eagles the following week in the first round of the playoffs. The Vikings offense was flat and quarterback Tarvaris Jackson seemed overmatched. The Eagles won 26-14. The defeat served notice to the Vikings that an upgrade at quarterback was necessary for the franchise to reach the next level. Of course, in 2009, that upgrade, in the form of Brett Favre, resulted in a trip to the NFC Championship game.